What is at stake:George Bush may have promised to be the...

CAMPAIGN ISSUE: EDUCATION

October 31, 1992|By Nelson Schwartz | Nelson Schwartz,Washington Bureau

What is at stake:

George Bush may have promised to be the "education president" in 1988 but now he is facing stiff competition as Ross Perot and Bill Clinton try to wrest that mantle from him.

Mr. Clinton and Mr. Perot have listed educational reforms among their leading accomplishments and have cited the battles they waged to push them through as defining moments in their public careers. Mr. Bush's critics give him an F for effort.

But Mr. Bush can boast of raising educational spending by more than 30 percent in his first term and appointing the respected former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander as secretary of education. Spending on the popular Head Start pre-school program is also up sharply.

Education remains a touchstone issue for many Americans, provoking strong feelings and intense debates over the separation of church and state and the role of government in private life. More and more Americans, too, see a college education as the main stepping stone to achieving the American Dream.

Not surprisingly, all three candidates have tended to dwell on how to broaden that kind of access. President Bush, as in other domestic policy areas, focuses on a free market approach. Mr. Bush has called for a "GI Bill for Children" that would provide parents with $1,000 vouchers to be used for private and parochial schools.

Gov. Clinton responds that the program would violate the separation of church and state by helping parochial schools and would further weaken already strapped public schools.

While Mr. Clinton opposes public support for private or parochial schools, he supports the right of parents to choose between different public schools. Perhaps Mr. Clinton's most striking suggestion is the idea of allowing all students to borrow for college, and pay back loans through payroll deductions or community service.

Although Ross Perot has often said money is not the answer to educational problems, he would increase funding by roughly $12 billion. Mr. Perot would emphasize local control, national standards, and expanded pre-school education.

WHAT THEY HAVE SAID

Ross Perot:

"Failing schools and shoddy performance are undermining our nation's ability to compete and our children's expectations for the future. If this were only a problem in our inner cities, we could concentrate our attention there. It's not. Even our richest suburban schools and our private schools are failing to produce results that measure up on a global scale."

George Bush:

"Our schools were basically designed for another age -- a hundred years ago... The world has changed and so must our schools. You don't have to look far for new ideas. Teachers, school board members, parents, business leaders -- all are fountains of innovation. They represent the true genius of America and we must encourage them."

Bill Clinton:

"If the schools aren't good and you don't have a good education, it's hard to do anything else later in life. But if you have a good education and you don't have a job, you think you did it all for nothing. So you got to have those two things..."

WHAT THEY HAVE DONE

Bill Clinton

As governor of Arkansas, Mr. Clinton overcame the opposition of the teachers unions to pass mandatory licensing exams for teachers, raised standards and increased the state's sales tax to boost school funding. But it is still too early to say how much of an effect these changes have had in Arkansas' classrooms.

George Bush

Mr. Bush increased the amount of federal money going to education, and Education Secretary Lamar Alexander has sought to give education a higher profile in the administration. But Mr. Bush has not gone to bat for many of his proposals or given them the kind of visibility that Mr. Clinton has in Arkansas.

As chairman of a blue-ribbon education panel in Texas, Ross Perot took on a tradition as entrenched as rodeos and barbecue -- high school football. He pushed the controversial "no pass, no play" rule through the Texas legislature, forbidding failing students from participating in extracurricular activities.

WHAT THEY WILL DO

George Bush

Mr. Bush has proposed increasing Head Start funding by $600 million next year, boosting funding for college scholarships for lower-income students and implementing national standards. In addition to vouchers to pay for private or parochial schooling, the president would create tax deductions for interest on student loans.

Bill Clinton

Mr. Clinton would sharply increase federal spending on education, proposing $63 billion in new programs. In addition to broadly expanded access to college loans, he would create an apprentice project for young people who do not plan to go to college, and make Head Start available to every eligible child.

Ross Perot:

In addition to establishing new national standards on classroom performance, Mr. Perot would also like to see invididual schools release their test scores so parents could compare the results and choose accordingly. He would also back tough standards for teachers and more comprehensive preschool programs.

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